An Obvious Miscalculation

512px-Guy_Rose_-_The_Green_Mirror

Guy Rose [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“You’re so beautiful,” he says, with a sweet smile.
I love that smile. It’s like a special secret.
I smile back, and I think I even say thank you. This time.

This, the smile back, is honest and so is the appreciation. But…

“You’re so beautiful,” he has said. The same way he has said, contentedly, “I love to hold your hand.” The same voice and the same gentleness, and I know he’s not lying, but it has taken a lot of effort on my part to keep myself from arguing.

“You’re so beautiful,” he would say.
And I would say, “No, I’m not.”
And inside, I would say, “This is ridiculous. Has he not seen the research?!”
And up against the three words from the man I love, who also loves me, is decades of statistical data explaining why, specifically, I am not beautiful. And images of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of models who are our society’s definition of beautiful. And inside me, the certainty that if I stood next to any one of these women, I would be arrested for my ugliness. No, not arrested, probably. Just poofed out of existence.

Sometimes, I would give him specific reasons why he was wrong. “I’m fat…, My hair…, My skin…, Look at what I’m wearing.”

I don’t know when the data collection even started. Was it from the beginning? Or did I hold off until I was a pre-teen? My friend Liz had a subscription to Seventeen, which I think was where I first got the idea that I should be on a diet. No wait… My first diet was before that. When I was fourteen, I think. I got a lot of praise for that diet.

That was when I learned to talk to other girls about myself.
“I’m having a bad hair day!”
“Ugh, I’m so fat, I shouldn’t have eaten that yogurt.”
They would echo back.
“Can you see my zit?”
“My butt looks so big in these jeans.”
Acceptance and understanding. We hate ourselves and the way we look. Or we know we are supposed to. We are all on the same page. Carry on.

But that goes away when girls grow up, right?

I was twenty-six when I stopped measuring my right to exist (to have a voice, to be seen, to believe I was allowed to be considered) based on anything but my looks. That I know specifically. That was the year my first husband’s cancer spread. That was the year I pulled all-nighters measuring out pain medications, emptying catheter bags, checking IV sites. And that was the year I saw someone I love suffer and die. I didn’t think about being beautiful once that year. I learned how unimportant it really was.

But

I still live in a society based on beauty and thinness, and those judgments creep back in. I have to remind myself.

When I was twenty-seven, I met my friend Tricia.
I tried to talk to her the way I talked to other females.
“Ugh, I look so terrible.”
And she just blinked at me. “Garnett,” (That’s what she calls me), “be nice to yourself.”
I didn’t know what to do with that, but it felt like the inkling of some kind of scary freedom. “Oh, we don’t hate ourselves here?” I thought. And still when I remember that day, my heart feels the same weird-good way.

Later, she told me this story a friend of hers told her. She, the friend, was in law school and was talking to a bunch of other female students.
“You know,” she said, “the only thing straight women ever talk about is their weight.”
“Oh, I KNOW!” said the only straight woman in the group. “I have gained five pounds this term!”

I think about that story all the time. I try to make it remind me to talk to my straight women friends about things other than hating our looks. I let it scold me when I fail. Societally, that is our language.

Now I am edging my way toward forty-three.
I’m old enough to feel silly when I want to argue with the man I love about whether or not I am, objectively, beautiful.
I’m smart enough not to judge myself when insecurities creep in, because there are a whole lot of years of bad lessons to unlearn.
And just recently, I’m wise enough and compassionate enough toward myself to smile and say thank you.
Because, this is the man who loves me most in the world, the one who has seen me cry and rage and laugh ‘til I snort
The man who has watched me watch our little boy with eyes so full of love they overflow with it
And, just maybe, this guy knows what he’s talking about when he says I’m beautiful.

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I’m No Doctor, But Your Throat is Probably Fine

overreacting

People are really super concerned about their throats lately. Specifically, they are worried about things being shoved down them. Rarely a day passes when I don’t hear about someone’s worry over their throat. It is generally worded like this:

“I get it, you’re trans; you don’t have to shove it down my throat.”
“I’m for equal rights, but don’t shove your feminist agenda down my throat.”

These statements suggest that it is perfectly okay to be whatever and whoever you are, as long as you keep it really quiet and feel ashamed about it. And don’t rock the boat.

A gay couple touching in public might be described as “shoving it down my throat.” In actuality, a gay couple holding hands is only likely to do your throat any harm if they are really tall, and they are running right at you, with their arms stretched at throat level. And they clothesline you. In the throat.

Possibly, people are being less literal than I assume.More figuratively, then, I would not define, “shoved down your throat” as being required to acknowledge that there are people who are different from you because you see an example of one. I’d describe “shoved down your throat,” as having laws made about what you can do with your body or where you can go to the bathroom, or which consenting adults are allowed to marry.

Being exposed to the issues or even the existence of a group of people who are different from you is unlikely to do any harm to your throat. In fact, it might even help it! Tolerance strengthens vocal cords and open-mindedness contains antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and riboflavin*.

*These claims have not been tested by the FDA.

So don’t worry, your throat is probably fine. If it actually hurts, though, you may want to get it checked for strep. You don’t want to mess with that shit.

We Need Some Venn Diagrams

Yesterday, for some reason, (why yesterday? I really don’t know) three people shared “Caitlyn Jenner isn’t courageous because someone else is courageous” memes. Two featured pictures of wounded soldiers – two different pictures of two different soldiers – next to the picture of Caitlyn Jenner giving her ESPY speech. Both copied the meme that someone else created last week with the same picture of Caitlyn next two other wounded veterans.

Here are some things I have to say about this, in no particular order:

1) Memes are designed to create an action, a click. The more compelling the image, the more likely the click. Our clicks lead to ad revenue. A picture of a wounded soldier next to Caitlyn Jenner is an attempt at viral marketing.
2) Using a soldier’s sacrifice to mock someone else and to boost a viral marketing company’s page reach is not honoring that sacrifice. You can’t know if that veteran has given permission for his or her image to be used in this manner, and unless you do, it’s exploitative.
3) Giving one person an award for courage doesn’t create a vacuum in which ALL the rest of the possible awards for courage are destroyed. It doesn’t take away another person’s existing award for courage. It doesn’t suggest that other people are not also courageous.
4) Between 2003 and now, only two U.S. soldiers have been awarded the Arthur Ashe Award, both in 2003: brothers Pat and Kevin Tillman. Why the uproar this year?
5) Caitlyn Jenner didn’t transition publicly so she could win the Arthur Ashe award.
6) Soldiers do not take heroic action so they can win the Arthur Ashe award.

These pictures are meant to imply that there is nothing courageous about transitioning genders. The mere fact that there is a backlash like this (as Caitlyn knew there would be) suggests otherwise.

I couldn’t imagine doing it. And clearly, the people who created and shared the meme couldn’t.

Imagine telling every person you know that you are now someone else, and hoping they will still accept you.
Imagine the invasive questions you will field from strangers regarding your genitals.
Imagine the hormones and surgeries, the expense, the recovery, the pain.
Imagine the fear of losing your job, your family, your home or even your life.
Now imagine doing that in front of the whole world. That is a different kind of courage, but it’s big courage.

I wasn’t going to write about this, because I don’t know what a soldier at war or a transgender person experiences. Who am I to say anything about either? But it kept coming up all day. Then at the end of the day, this happened: India Clarke, a young transgender woman, was murdered in Tampa. I don’t know her, but I hurt for her and her family. I hope she didn’t suffer. I hope they find her murderer. I hope she is at peace. I want to acknowledge (even if I can’t begin to imagine) how much bravery it takes to just live in the world as a transgender person.

India Clarke is the 12th transgender woman murdered in the U.S. in 2015. It is dangerous to be a transgender woman in the U.S.

And now, I feel strangely compelled to say that by making that statement, I am not suggesting that it’s not also dangerous to serve in the armed forces. I’m not saying that it is not dangerous to be a fire fighter or a police officer or a paramedic. Lots of things can be dangerous at the same time, just like lots of people can be courageous at the same time.

Our veterans are routinely not receiving the services and support they deserve. I don’t believe that Caitlyn Jenner or ESPN are to blame for that. I’m not entirely convinced that juxtaposing the two issues will result in any tangible support for veterans. I also don’t believe that was the intent of juxtaposing the two. Instead, it looks like people are using the brave actions of others as a distraction from a completely unrelated issue that makes them feel uneasy. Which, if you think about it, actually isn’t very courageous.

Icy Tendrils of Fear

My autonomic nervous system works as though I live in an episode of the Walking Dead. I am in a near-constant state of fight or flight.

OK, I lied, just flight. It’s all flight. If the phone rings or someone knocks on the door, I jump, then hide under the bed. I actually keep my phone ringer because hearing it ring can cause a mini-panic attack.

I have a debilitatingly bad sense of direction. (I’m convinced I have disorder that causes me to get lost called Topical Disorientation.) So, if I need to drive someplace out of my familiar haunts, I worry about it for at least a week in advance.

I just served jury duty. In the weeks between the summons and the date of my duty, I panicked every time I saw the notice on the fridge. My terror had nothing to do with whether or not I would be picked (I was) and everything to do with getting to the courthouse and parking and being there on time.

Whenever I travel, I dream about missing my flights or not being able to park or missing an exit to the airport, even though I’ve been there a hundred times. I’m not at all afraid to fly.

See  that? I’m not afraid of dying, just of having my spirit hurt or killed.

When I first published my book, I was terrified.  Then, a remarkable thing happened: Nothing.

I didn’t do any kind of marketing, and my book stayed hidden in the shadows where it would be safe.

I realized shortly after that I published too soon. It needed cutting, editing, a better title, a better cover. I decided I would do all that, then market. Except…I didn’t. I wrote more. I blogged more. I dragged my feet.

Writing isn’t (necessarily) hard. People write to get out what they need to say. For me, the process of writing my first book was almost 100% pleasure. It was a joyride. And the result is so precious to me. Like everyone else who writes, I feel like these words and characters are part of my soul. And now it exists in the same world with people who are unabashedly, proudly and terribly mean.

What will happen to my spirit when it gets battered by these meanies? What will happen if it’s not battered but simply greeted with apathy?

Maybe that’s what I need, to let the worst happen and see how I am afterward. Maybe I’ll get spirit calluses. Maybe my spirit will do surprising and lovely things if I let it experience this, like a tree on a windswept landscape. What if my spirit has a blue sapphire heart that can only shine when the silvery outside is worn off? It’s possible, I suppose. But oh how scary.

Well, I finally made myself pick up my feet and stop making excuses and inviting distractions. My book is done. It is cut, re-edited, retitled, recovered (thank you Lori Follett), and republished.

cover

Here it is, available on Amazon and here on Amazon UK, soon to be available in paperback. (No really! Soon – it’s formatted and saved to PDF, I’m just waiting my full wrap cover from my amazing cover artist.)

Now, off to market it. Time to drag it out of the shadows and see what it and my spirit can survive.

Wish me luck!

P.S. Other things I fear:

Torture

Imprisonment

Spiders

Clowns

Mimes

Zombies (as aforesaid)

Ventriloquist dummies

Mushrooms

What If

ok

There’s a possibility that drifts past me, not quite making contact, not quite settling on me. It causes a slight lightening of the spirit but feels dangerous, like hope.

“What if I’m OK?”

If I could say to myself, “You are.” What a relief that would be. How much extra energy and time I would have. How much unconditional joy I would have.

The thing is, if you were to come to me and say, “What if I’m OK?”

I would say, promptly, “You are.”

But you are. The hang-ups and insecurities you have, I don’t understand. You are beautiful and kind, you are brave and smart. You are a survivor. Every day you make it. You are still standing, smiling, laughing, studying, thinking, loving.

I’m not letting you off the hook. There just is no hook. Don’t be mean, that’s all I expect from other people. If you can stand up in this harsh and difficult world and not be mean, you are more than OK in my book. You are a marvel of humanity.

But from me, oh the expectations. The list is long and growing. The constant lengthening of the list is a promise to myself. “You will never be OK.”

If I was smart, I would ask myself, “Self, when I do all this, what can I have?”
Cornered, my self will be forced to laugh a little slyly, and respond, “Have? Well nothing. There are other pages under that one, silly.”

This isn’t self-loathing or even self-pity. It is just something I don’t know how to release. It’s not like I’m interested in perfection. It’s not like I don’t know how little success with my list means to other people. It just is. It’s my hook. I’m not OK. Or Not OK enough for myself. I should work on that.

I’ll add it to my list.